Eyes and Herpes: Q&A

Dr. Russel Lazarus, May 30, 2021
herpes1

Herpes eye infection requires urgent medical attention.

Eye herpes, also known as herpes keratitis, is a viral infection of the eye caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

There are two major types of the virus; Type I and Type II. While both types of herpes can spread to the eye and cause infection, Type I is by far the most frequent cause of eye infections. It is rare to transfer Type II to the eye.

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Here are commonly asked questions about eye herpes.

#1 Is this condition serious? 

Yes. Eye herpes is a serious infection of your cornea, possibly causing life-long blindness.

Once treated, eye herpes usually lasts 1-3 weeks, sometimes even longer.

Treatment normally lasts two weeks, and you should see results within five days.

#2 What are common symptoms of eye herpes?

At the first sign of an outbreak, contact your doctor to begin treatment as soon as possible to reduce the possibility of vision loss.

Common symptoms of herpes keratitis may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Discharge
  • Pain
  • Rash
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tearing

If the infection only involves the cornea’s outer layer, it will usually heal without scarring. However, if it involves the deeper layers of cornea, the infection may lead to scarring of the cornea, loss of vision and sometimes even blindness.

Left untreated, eye herpes can cause severe and permanent vision loss.

#3 How often do flare-ups recur? 

20% of people who’ve had eye herpes will have another outbreak within a year of the initial infection.

While several factors contribute to a recurrence, if you experience multiple flare-ups, your doctor may recommend taking a daily antiviral medication for prevention.

#4 What causes flare-ups?

Major stressors can often lead to a bout of eye herpes. These include:

  • Fever
  • Trauma
  • Emotional distress
  • Excessive sunlight exposure (UV rays)
  • Refractive surgery (LASIK, etc.)
  • Major surgical or dental procedures

A weakened immune system can also put you at increased risk of an eye herpes flare-up, and potentially lead to an outbreak.

#5 How is eye herpes treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, general health, and the severity of the outbreak. .

Possible treatments may include:

  • Antibiotic drops for your eyes (to prevent further infection by bacteria)
  • Antibiotic ointment for your eyelids (to prevent infection by bacteria)
  • Antiviral drops for your eyes
  • Antiviral ointment for your eyelids
  • Antiviral medicines taken by mouth
  • Steroid drops for your eyes (to reduce inflammation)

While most of these treatments are fairly short-term, you may also need to take antiviral oral medicine on a long-term basis. This is to help prevent future flare-ups. Some complications of eye herpes may require additional  treatment.

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you who can diagnose and treat your eye herpes.